There is so much good TV that nearly any average TV viewer could probably do an Emmy wishlist and put together something that another average TV viewer couldn’t really fault. This is a good thing.
But the glut of goodness does mean that the structural biases and barriers of the Emmys are more present than perhaps they’ve ever been simply because the single biggest factor in getting an Emmy nomination is having gotten one before. The sameness of these awards are partly a function of the way TV is made (shows run for years), but my suspicion is that this (admittedly reasonable) factor is mostly a crutch for Emmy voters who are frequently behind the 8-ball on TV innovation and biased against whole swaths of shows (sci-fi, soap, multi-cam comedy, most anything specifically produced for people of color/or on a POC network).
So why not put together my own dream list? And that’s what this is. This is simply a list of who I would love to see get nominations. I have no illusions that the Emmys would ever be this awesome and diverse in its tastes.
I kept each category to 6 nominees as is pretty typical of the Emmys. Let me know what you think in the comments.
One note – I didn’t pick episodes for writing or directing because I don’t really have access to all of the episodes and for categories like that I feel like I would have had to rewatch everything to make honest, informed choices. But I think we can all probably agree that the writing and (especially) the directing on American Crime was remarkable.
Outstanding Drama Series
- American Crime
- Jessica Jones
These are the six most emotionally resonant, stylistically daring and compelling television dramas on the air right now. These are shows that know what they are doing in every element of the show from story to script to cast to production design to cinematography to directing. I don’t know how anyone doesn’t think the second season of American Crime wasn’t the finest dramatic storytelling of the past year, but it is.
The Originals, Suits, iZombie, and Bones. iZombie and The Originals are doing genre better than any other network shows right now, including the superhero shows that are stumbling at bit. And if you’re going to do a procedural, then you should do it the way Suits and Bones do it.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
- Grant Gustin, The Flash
- Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel
- Aldis Hodge, Underground
- Connor Jessup, American Crime
- Joey Pollari, American Crime
- Courtney B. Vance, American Crime Story
What I like about all of these performance is that they strike a really fascinating balance between big dramatics and more subtle character work that you really see when the camera’s in close-up. Gustin gets lots of attention for being charming as fuck, but in his emotional scenes he brings the full weight of Barry’s history to bear and he kills it every time. Hodge masters his character’s need to display both quick-thinking and deep wells of anger with aplomb. Vance finds the man underneath the caricature in ways that surprise you every time. But for me, the work that Jessup, Pollari, and Highmore are doing as three deeply disturbed teens in two very different shows, American Crime and Bates Motel, body every other lead male performance on TV.
Daniel Gillies and Terrence Howard are phenomenally good on The Originals and Empire, respectively. Gillies holds The Originals together with a performance of remarkable subtlety, precision, and perhaps the best line readings on TV right now. Howard has the thankless role of playing a shoddily written character at the center of a show that’s completely fallen apart, but he’s disgustingly good. If I had 8 slots they’d have them.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
- Shiri Appleby, UnREAL
- Taraji P. Henson, Empire
- Felicity Huffman, American Crime
- Krysten Ritter, Jessica Jones
- Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Underground
- Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
All six of these performances are spectacular in large part because these are just some of the best woman characters on TV and the actresses do remarkable work bringing them to life. Here we have Huffman’s incredible work playing a horrible private school power player, Smollett-Bell’s runaway house slave, Zimmer’s manipulative EP, and Ritter’s traumatized superhero. Henson has created an iconic character in a very short time and never goes to sleep on the job even if the writers may have. But it’s Appleby, in particular, who is the revelation this year. She’s doing something truly fascinating to me: playing a woman who can’t help but be a monster and yet wishes desperately she wasn’t one.
Viola Davis and Emily Deschanel. Deschanel has been overlooked for bringing one of the great, singular female TV characters to life for more than a decade and it’s been a mistake on the part of the industry from her very first moment on Bones. Davis has the same problem Terrence Howard has (a central character that is just inconsistenly written on a show that is completely ridiculous), but Davis makes you forget it through sheer force of her immense talent.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Robert Buckley, iZombie
- Trai Byers, Empire
- Rick Hoffman, Suits
- Alano Miller, Underground
- Jussie Smollett, Empire
- Carlos Valdes, The Flash
These guys do exactly what supporting characters are supposed to do: they build out the world and support the overarching story. Buckley’s Major has the most compelling arc of any character on iZombie and he plays Major’s anger and helplessness beautifully. Valdes is the heart and soul of The Flash and, without him, the show quite simply wouldn’t work. He can do comic relief and then do deep emotion without missing a beat. Hoffman’s got a theatricality that never feels too big for the show, which is a high-wire act few can master. Smollett manages to make Jamal compelling despite the show’s desire to make him a symbol rather than a man and truly excels in scenes opposite Howard, in particular. Byers and Miller have the hardest jobs on their shows and they make it look much easier than it actually is. Byers, in particular, did just outstanding work in the early episodes of Empire Season 2.
NOTE 6/9/16 – I completely forgot Bokeem Woodbine in my original posting of this. HUGE mistake. I’d swap him in for Miller probably, but rather than rewrite this, I’ll just admit to a really stupid oversight. He gave easily the best supporting performance of the year by a male actor.
Peter Dinklage remains the best thing on Game of Thrones.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Gemma Chan, Humans
- Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
- Regina King, The Leftovers/American Crime
- Naturi Naughton, Power
- Gina Torres, Suits
- Ming-Na Wen, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
These are all incredibly strong performances. In particular, Naughton has always been able to understand that her ride-or-die wife is really a Lady MacBeth much the way Headey’s Cersei has always been. King had two very different roles this past year and was atonishing in both. Torres and Wen have the kinds of roles that are easy to ignore if you’re not paying attention to what each woman is doing. Chan is the center of her show and playing an android who might be more than what she seems requires both a blankness and a vulnerability that are masterfully done here.
Tamara Taylor’s prickly Cam on Bones is a wonderful depiction of hypercompetence and no-bullshit Black womanhood that we have ignored for too long.
Outstanding Comedy Series
- The Carmichael Show
- Fresh Off the Boat
- The Grinder
- Jane the Virgin
Black-ish and Jane the Virgin are, hands down, my two favorite shows on television right now. Jane is the only show of its kind (22 episodes per season) right now that has never produced a bad episode, which is astonishing given the mix of tones, stories and styles it has to balance. Black-ish is just firing on all cylinders and has the benefit of the best group of young actors on TV. FOTB and Carmichael Show are right behind it. The Grinder had Fred Savage playing a gloriously hilarious straight man and a weirdly fascinating serialized arc in the middle of the season that was fucking hysterical. Grandfathered proved that John Stamos is truly a great comic actor and that Christina Milian could be one as well.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
- Justin Baldoni, Jane the Virgin
- Coby Bell, The Game
- Brett Dier, Jane the Virgin
- Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
- Fred Savage, The Grinder
- John Stamos, Grandfathered
Parsons is an obvious choice, but he deserves it. He’s hilarious. Savage and Stamos are veterans who still managed to be funny in new, interesting ways that totally carried their respective shows. That Baldoni and Dier work at all outside of Jane is a testament to great writing and their sharp, finely tuned performances. But I really want to talk about Coby Bell, who has been doing what I think is the funniest work on TV for a decade. Jason Pitts must be understood as an iconic Black character and Bell makes him funny and human in ways that consistently amaze me. That he’s never been recognized for his work on The Game in any way (I’m looking at you, NAACP Image Awards) is, simply, a crime.
Rob Lowe is my #7, man. Genius.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
- Paget Brewster, Grandfathered
- Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory
- Wendy Raquel Robinson, The Game
- Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
- Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
- Constance Wu, Fresh Off The Boat
Cuoco’s work is strong almost entirely because she truly understands that Penny’s not intimidated by how smart all her friends are. From the beginning that was true and she adds layers to her portrayal each year that are remarkable. Brewster was just beautiful opposite Stamos bringing a subtle pathos to her work that gave the show real emotional weight, Robinson made Tasha Mack work despite late-era Game writing that forgot who the character was, and Ross succeeded in making her Rainbow just as insane as Dre. But for me this category is all about Rodriguez and Wu. I really don’t think any lead actor on TV right now is funnier than Constance Wu. And no one is balancing the trickiness of constantly shifting tones and styles the way Rodriguez is.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Jaime Camil, Jane the Virgin
- Duane Martin, Real Husbands of Hollywood
- Josh Peck, Grandfathered
- Marcus Scribner, Black-ish
- Forrest Wheeler, Fresh Off The Boat
This category has great diversity from Peck and Wheeler’s deceptively low-key presence to the more outlandish work that Camil and Burgess are doing to the more straighforward hilarity that Martin brings to what is really an underappreciated satire. But for my money, Scribner is the MVP because he’s taken a character that was frequently the butt of his show’s jokes, leaned into his awkward growth spurt, and turned him into an endearingly gangly Black nerd we have all fallen in love with.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
- Loretta Devine, The Carmichael Show
- Yael Groblas, Jane the Virgin
- Tiffany Haddish, The Carmichael Show
- Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Marsai Martin, Black-ish
Devine and Krakowski are playing broad, but so artfully that you still laugh uproariously. Haddish’s work is remarkable because she resists the urge to lean into the broadness of her character on the page. She’s playing Nakeisha straight and that’s not necessarily a choice other actresses would make. Bialik has done beautiful work this past season, particularly after dumping Sheldon for a good, long run of episodes. But my faves here are Groblas, who makes Petra a wonderful comic creation and a tragic one at the same time, and Martin, whose sociopathic Diane is the most consistently laugh-out-loud funny character on Black-ish. Her line reading of the (not-so-affectionate) term of endearment, “friend,” kills me every. single. time.
Outstanding Performance by a Guest Actor in a Drama Series/Comedy Series
- Enrico Colantoni, Person of Interest
- Deon Cole, Black-ish
- Laurence Fishburne, Black-ish
- Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife
- Neal McDonough, Arrow
- Jussie Smollett, Underground
I combined this only because I think there are only six truly outstanding guest performances by male actors that are worth highlighting. Smollett is ferociously good in his Underground role as a murderous slave. Fox does smarm incredibly well and McDonough finds great humor in his Arrow Big Bad. Cole and Fishburne never let their characters’ broadness on the page obscure the truth they are playing. It’s what great comic actors know and these guys have it in spades. But my favorite performance in this category is Enrico Colantoni, who’s Carl Elias on Person of Interest gives him room to put a new dark wrinkle in comic timing that brings malevolence and humor to the show in such a memorable way.
Outstanding Performance by a Guest Actress in a Drama Series/Comedy Series
- Loretta Devine, Being Mary Jane
- Tracy Ifeachor, The Originals
- Jenifer Lewis, Black-ish
- Yara Martinez, Jane the Virgin
- Carrie Preston, The Good Wife
- Amirah Vann, Underground
Preston and Lewis are national treasures who manage the trick of doing broad without losing track of their center. Martinez plays a lovesick mess in a way that inspires empathy, not pity. Ifeachor is without a doubt the finest guest actor The Originals has yet had and her scenes with Daniel Gillies toward the end were a master class. But the revelations here are Devine, playing against type as a hustler lesbian prophetess on Being Mary Jane with so much charisma and power that she singlehandedly revived a show that had become incomprehensible, and Vann, who played a house slave who slowly realizes over the course of the season that she didn’t know as much as she thought about how to survive plantation life. Her arc is the finest in the show and Vann never flubs a moment.
That’s my list. Let me know what you like and don’t like about it in the comments.
The Americans has got to be on any list of the best dramas on TV right now.
Couldn’t make it through the first two seasons, so nope.